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Open Access Research article

Group decision-making in chacma baboons: leadership, order and communication during movement

Cédric Sueur

Author affiliations

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, USA

Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Département Ecologie, Physiologie et Ethologie, Strasbourg, France

Université de Strasbourg, Institut Pluridisciplinaire Hubert Curien, Strasbourg, France

Unit of Social Ecology, free University of Brussels, Brussels, Belgium

Citation and License

BMC Ecology 2011, 11:26  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-11-26

Published: 20 October 2011



Group coordination is one of the greatest challenges facing animals living in groups. Obligatory trade-offs faced by group members can potentially lead to phenomena at the group level such as the emergence of a leader, consistent structure in the organization of individuals when moving, and the use of visual or acoustic communication. This paper describes the study of collective decision-making at the time of departure (i.e. initiation) for movements of two groups of wild chacma baboons (Papio ursinus). One group was composed of 11 individuals, whilst the other consisted of about 100 individuals.


Results for both groups showed that adult males initiated more movements even if the leadership was also distributed to adult females and young individuals. Baboons then joined a movement according to a specific order: adult males and adult females were at the front and the back of the group, sub-adults were at the back and juveniles were located in the central part of the progression. In the two groups, vocalisations, especially loud calls, were more frequently emitted just before the initiation of a group movement, but the frequency of these vocalisations did not influence the success of an initiation in any way.


The emergence of a leadership biased towards male group members might be related to their dominance rank and to the fact that they have the highest nutrient requirements in the group. Loud calls are probably not used as recruitment signals but more as a cue concerning the motivation to move, therefore enhancing coordination between group members.